Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Her body shook like she was actually being electrocuted. The skin around her neck and collarbones was pulled so tightly across the small expanse that was her chest, I thought it would be broken by her movements. The dress she wore... well, barely covered the necessary parts... and her eyes bulged above the great hollow grooves that constituted her cheeks. On her feet were painful and sparkly sky high heels.

The man that stood behind her was quite different. He was fat.... His cheeks were not hollow, they were full and red with the blush that comes from too many drinks. He wore unflattering cargo shorts, too low slung, calling attention to the fat beer gut that sat above them. His shirt was sweaty, brow dripping consistently onto the plain t-shirt.... His eyes.... they were bulging too... But not because he was on drugs and therefore very skinny, because they were popping out of his head in an effort to absorb and take in as much as the prostitute in front of him was showing off.

I've seen prostitutes before. Hello, I'm like.. from LA. But not like this.

Let me rewind this tape a bit.

Saturday night, the group arrived in Phnom Penh. A few of us were pretty hyper to be here, the minute we felt the warm air cover our skin... we knew bed time was a long ways away. We decided to go out and see what the night scene was all about. After a walk down a sketchy and too long a road, we made it to a street that previous internet searches had told us was the place to be. We walked a bit, and then saw a club that was apparently famous in Phnom Penh. After a quick pat down, we entered.... and saw.... mayhem.

All of us had been to clubs before, but nothing could have prepared us for what was in front of our faces. We were minorities in every way. We were sober, heterosexuals, and not interested in a prostitute.

Instantly, all of us made a connection. Over the summer, part of our required reading was Half The Sky, a book that walks its readers through the issues and prevalence of women's oppression. Essentially, it was the ultimate TBB experience.... Connecting one of the parts of the book with something right before our eyes. On this trip, we've read quite a bit... and its little moments like this when you are glad you did. It's one thing to read about a drug addicted 16 year old prostitute, and its quite another to see one live at... work. Let's just say, I've never been so embarrassed to be white. It really was only pig like white men that were molesting these prostitutes.... The fact that we could be identified visually in any way shape or form as similar made me feel ill.

Sometimes, you learn a lesson at work or in a seminar. Other times, you learn one at a club... some time in the early morning.

About 30 hours later, all of us headed in Tuk-tuks? Took-tooks? (AKA the carriages attached to motorcycles that serve as taxis here in Cambodia) to the site of the killing fields. The memorial site is run extremely well, with everyone taking a headset and a little player, giving each individual the opportunity to embark on a private journey through the site, listening to testimonials of survivors and guards alike while carefully stepping over pieces of ripped old clothing still on the ground from the dead bodies that lay beneath the soil.

I want to say I thoroughly enjoyed the killing fields, but that sounds a little, well weird. I did regardless of "enjoyment", learn a TON about the Cambodian genocide of an estimated 2 million people that occurred during 1975-1979.... All the while, I couldn't help but think how valuable learning about this genocide in school would have been, how weird and unfortunate it was that the US public education system never delved into this part of history..... (I am guessing we don't learn this because the USA acknowledged Pol Pot as the official leader of Cambodia until around 1997.... I also had a similar thought when we learned of the Cultural Revolution in China, a ten year killing of 40 million, something just.... skimmed over in every history class I've ever taken). Anyway, these realizations combined with the readings we have been doing really gives a second thought to the education I've received and what it means to be properly educated.

Can't say I've come to any real conclusions yet, but I can say I wish politics and global affairs didn't play such a role in omitting the truth from those in school. I personally believe it is important to examine all the parts of history, not just the pretty ones so we as the new generation are able to properly speak with our votes, and speak to each other void of ignorance.

It is the moments like this, the moments where I realize I never would have seen such horrible and sad mistreatment of women (if you can even call some of the prostitutes women, they really did look quite young), or walked along with a headset hearing stories of children beaten to their death against a killing tree, their own brains and organs splattered on the bark...... that get you through the homesickness. It's knowing that you saw something and thought about something that you wouldn't have otherwise that reaffirms the choice to take a gap year, to venture away from home for 8 months.

Alright, so down here I was going to attach two sick pictures, one taken today of the whole group in front of Angor Wat and another one of the cutest little monkey.... ever. This little monkey grabbed my long skirt and tried to climb inside of it. We are best friends. New life goal is to become the next Jane Goodall. But this connection is bad, so I guess errybody gonna have to wait on those.

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